A growing enterprise in the business of trash bags, mattresses and cardboard boxes now has air filters in its manufacturing operation, marking the latest addition to a product line made by minimum-security inmates of the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center.
At any given time, about 10 offenders work for LAPCORR, the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office entity that sells its products to government agencies, educational institutions and nonprofit organizations throughout Louisiana.
It also gives inmates an opportunity to earn money and learn job skills.
“The biggest thing is soft skills: waking up every day, going to a job, being respectful and learning how to communicate with not only a supervisor but other workers,” said Capt. Colby Barbier, LAPCORR’s project manager.
Created in 2008 through dollars generated by the inmates themselves — whether through purchasing commissary items, like toiletries, on the inside or phone credit to speak with loved ones on the outside — LAPCORR began by producing trash-can liners and added more products over the years as sales kept pace with the initial investment and overhead costs.
Now more than 170 customers from 22 parishes buy from the business. Lafayette Consolidated Government is its top customer, with the Sheriff’s Office itself coming in second — it now saves $1,100 a month by purchasing air filters from LAPCORR, Barbier said.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Acadiana buys trash bags from LAPCORR, with Executive Director Betty Blair attesting to saving money by going with the local enterprise.
“And when we order, they deliver the next day. So that’s a nice perk, too,” Blair said.
Jails and prisons purchase LAPCORR’s 3-inch foam mattresses, which are covered in fireproof, clear vinyl — a plus for jailers aiming to regulate contraband — along with pillows, shower curtains and laundry bags made at the Sheriff’s Office’s West Willow Street complex.
Under production for about a month, air filters can be customized by size and efficiency grade. Trash-can liners, whether made of plastic or biodegradable material, can be customized by size to hold other things, like ice, umbrellas or sandwiches. And the cardboard boxes used to ship the products are made and sold there, too.
Streets supervisor Sherman Thibodeaux, with the city of Youngsville, spoke of good service in purchasing trash bags from LAPCORR, noting inmate crews fill some of the bags with roadside litter when they work in the city.
“They’re very good at it, too,” Thibodeaux said.
Product sales brought in about $40,000 in revenue last year, which goes toward expanding the product line, LAPCORR manager Lt. Jared Yashar said.
In the works is a business plan for a potential embroidery line, he said, pointing to the Sheriff’s Office badge emblazoned on his beige polo — the work of an inmate.
But the goods must stay within Louisiana. Should any of LAPCORR’s sales cross state lines, the operation would fall under a federal statute called the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program, or PIE, requiring that inmate laborers receive taxable minimum wages.
The U.S. Department of Justice oversees the arrangement, which has existed since 1979 to give inmates “a chance to develop marketable skills that will increase their potential for rehabilitation and meaningful employment on release,” according to the Bureau of Justice Assistance.
The certification is better suited for inmate enterprises with a wide range of products, Barbier said through the rhythmic hum of the machinery around him.
“We’re not looking to put any other local company out of business. We’re not looking to dominate any market. We’re just trying to teach offenders skills,” he said.
Inmates nearing the end of their sentences earn real-world wages through the Sheriff’s Office’s work-release program, which places those offenders into paying jobs anywhere from restaurant kitchens to high-paying oilfield work.
But until they’re eligible for that program, LAPCORR workers and outside work crews earn credit toward their commissary account — $45 a month through LAPCORR and $40 a month outdoors, with up to $10 in additional incentives awarded for good work without error.
And through LAPCORR, workers learn how to run the manufacturing equipment, with some earning certifications to operate a forklift. It’s the only parish-level inmate enterprise in Louisiana.
“This is a program to teach offenders skills and for them to learn new things for the betterment of the offender population,” Barbier said.
“And,” Yashar added, “to save our own facilities some money.”
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.